Little slices of London's history

Update to St Mary Axe and an abject apology

Once again I must thank my eagle-eyed readers for keeping me on the straight and narrow. Where, enquired one such reader, did I get the story I mentioned (in relation to St Mary Axe) about King Cole, Marius (not Maurius), and St Ursula? I have to confess that not only do I not know where the story came from, but it appears to be complete nonsense. Mea maxima culpa.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I am not aiming to produce a scholarly work; this is supposed to be fun and highlight both some of the more interesting of London street names and the weird and wonderful stories behind them. Even if they are not the true derivation of the names, sometimes they are interesting in themselves.

However, I don’t want to write something that is total rubbish, which the above mentioned story appears to be. Some of the research for this project goes back decades and the sources have been lost in the mists of time and house moves. This is one such: the original text is in my old, faded, original hard copy of which there are no digital records and none of the footnotes or sources remain.

But let me stop beating myself up and move on. St Ursula was, apparently, a princess and the daughter of King Dionotus, ruler of Dumnoia (the modern Dorset, Devon and Somerset). “Today,” says one source dismally, “the story of Saint Ursula is overwhelmingly considered to be fiction.”

Historic UK also puts forward the notion that there were, in fact not 11,000 virgins, saying: “One theory is that there was only one martyr, named Undecimilla, which was incorrectly translated as undicimila, or 11,000, in Latin. Another theory from an eighth century historian is that amongst the martyrs was an 11 year old girl called Ursula and her age, undecimilia, was where the error came from.”

Still, a fun Ursula fact is that Christopher Columbus named the Virgin Islands after her and Magellan named the Cape Virgenes after Ursula and her Virgins.

It also seems that Geoffrey of Monmouth mentions two men who were kings of Britain during the time of the Roman occupation: King Marius and his son Cole (Coelus). But no Ursula, though (according to Wikipedia), Geoffrey may also have based the character of Ursula’s father Dionotus on that of Marcus, a short lived Roman usurper. That could be the ‘Marius’ of my long-lost source, but still no mention of Cole.

2 responses to “Update to St Mary Axe and an abject apology”

  1. No need to beat yourself up about anything at all. Surely we can take these legends for what they are, without getting too wrapped up in the minutiae of the historical details.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Thanks, Pete, I sort of feel like that too, but I don’t like getting things so completely wrong…

About Me (and my Obsession)

My obsession with London street names began in the early 90s when I worked in the Smithfield area and happened upon Bleeding Heart Yard. In my wanderings around London, I kept adding to my store of weird and wonderful street names. Eventually it was time to share – hence my blog. I hope you enjoy these names as much as I do.
– Elizabeth


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